As a writer, I strive for accuracy. So it’s been a bit of a struggle to find the right expression to describe my life since prostate surgery six months ago. Am I living with cancer? No, the cancer is out of me. Does that make me a cancer survivor? Well, no, the cancer could always come back, although the longer I go without cancer reoccurring, the less likelihood it will.
So when expressions fail, as a writer, I turn to metaphor.
I’ve decided that my cancer is a thermonuclear warhead in my neighbour’s backyard. It just shows up one day. Before then, he was a quiet neighbour, lived a moderate lifestyle, not someone you’d think would bring home a thermonuclear device. Indeed there were no warning signs that a weapon of mass destruction was ever in the offing.
Not content to simply have a warhead in his backyard, the neighbour sometimes pulls out a ladder, climbs to the top of the warhead and whacks it with a giant hammer like some kind of crazed Looney-Tunes character. Or he takes some other tools and rips open panels marked “DO NOT OPEN! THREAT OF DETONATION! KABOOM!” Sometimes the warhead hums and buzzes, with the occasional ticking sound.
And the thing is, I don’t even notice! I have no idea my neighbour has a thermonuclear warhead in the backyard until one day I go see the police for another matter, and they say, “Oh, by the way, we think your neighbour might have a thermonuclear warhead. We’re going to check.” They check. “Yup, that’s a thermonuclear warhead, all right. We’ll take care of it.”
Weeks go by, and I can think of nothing but the fact that there’s an armed thermonuclear warhead next door. Eventually, though, the police disable the nuclear warhead. They strip it of all the parts that can cause it to explode (which would be bad for the neighbourhood, I assume it goes without saying) and take away all the neighbour’s tools for good measure.
What a relief!
“Problem solved,” the police say, and I am filled with gratitude.
And yet they leave the warhead itself behind.
“Don’t worry, we’ll check in from time to time,” they say.
“But what if he starts tinkering with it again?” I protest. “What if he orders replacement kaboom parts? Gets new tools?”
“Well,” the police say, “we hope not.” And they’re off.
So now, six months later, I’m still living next door to a thermonuclear warhead, albeit a dormant one.
But the police do one more thing before they go: they take away my tools as well.
No more woodworking for me.
“It’s a small price to pay, no? Better than being blown to bits by a thermonuclear warhead?”
“Better than being blown…?”
“To bits, yes. You’re welcome.”
I really liked woodworking. Maybe I wasn’t woodworking as much as I was in my twenties, but I sure enjoyed it. Sometimes, even when I wasn’t woodworking, I would spend time thinking about woodworking. Sometimes I just whittled a little.
“Are my woodworking days really over?” I ask the police.
“Well, with any luck, you might be able to woodwork in a year or two, but it’s very possible you’ll never woodwork again. But, hey! We got rid of that thermonuclear warhead for you!”
“But it’s still there,” I point out.
“It’s fine. Probably. Also: have you ever tried working with Play-Doh?”
So that’s how I live my life now: next door to a neighbour with a dormant thermonuclear warhead, and no more woodworking. Most days, I don’t think about any of it, just go about my business. But then I’ll catch site of my neighbour pensively fiddling with electronics. Or I’ll see a nice piece of knotty pine. And then I remember. That’s my life with and without cancer.
All I can hope is that over time my neighbour will become increasingly bored with the thermonuclear warhead in his backyard and that his trips out back to tinker with it, get it humming again, will become less and less frequent until one day he forgets about it altogether.
Eventually, the warhead will start to rust and crumble and will no long pose any kind of threat. By that time, of course, I likely would have retired from semi-regular woodworking anyway, or at very least only be working with softwoods.
That’ll probably be when the meteor strikes the house. But that’s a metaphor for another time.